Thursday, January 17, 2008


The last review was not that positive, scathing might have been the word, and I am afraid this one is not going to be laudatory. However, Matilda Lee does go a lot further than the hapless Tamsin Blanchard - she has an index and cites her sources, which gives this some credibility.

Ms. Lee works at the Ecologist, which is a much more serious publication than the Independent, where Blanchard toiled away watching catwalks and size zero models. The former publication is very well researched, and went to the trouble to seek me out last year to give me a half page colour advert for the hemp eco bag - free! They were not just a bunch of mercenaries, but genuinely committed eco-journalists. At one time, they even printed part of an issue on John Hanson's Treefree hemp paper.

Their ethos does not seem to have rubbed off on Ms. Lee however. Nor, I take it, has she taken on board any of what I had to say when I had a conversation with her about hemp - she basically snubbed her nose at it and seemed offended - many Americans working in the eco movement do not really want any competition for US based businesses, so they serve as gatekeepers; Lee is from the Homeland, which does not even allow its citizens to grow hemp at all.

Mention of hemp in her book is limited, not surprising when Katherine Hamnett writes the foreword. Hamnett was exposed to hemp but decided to promote environmentally destructive cotton instead, now raising organic cotton which depletes the water in third world countries, even more so than non-organic cotton. Discussion of hemp is limited to pp. 122, 125-7, 186 & 210. All of this does start with a positive note, as Lee states that a UK hemp industry would decrease the transport of fabric to the UK. This statement, however, demands more information supplied, as the move to initiate a UK hemp textile industry is not an easy one. Further discussion of the UK hemp industry on pp. 125-127 fails to mention the use of hemp seed in the statistics, and then we are led to believe that BioRegional is in a project with Hemcore to cultivate hemp for fabric on 1,214 hectares - which would be, by Lee's previous data, 60+% of the total UK harvest. There is also the statement that there is no mill in the UK with experience with spinning, knitting or weaving hemp - again - Lee needs to do more checking. Huddersfield is mentioned as a place for a future BioRegional project, but could well have been given space for the very beautiful hemp fabrics being created there by Katie Knill, who for some reason was not at all consulted in this book. Get your facts right! Going back to BioRegional, they did indeed run field trials, twice in the last 10 years, but each trial involved 10 acres or so, and neither has produced much fibre. Let me here shed some light on this - I came along to view the second field trial, and saw that they really were not getting this together - so I asked if they had read any books about retting and production of fibre. They then just shrugged their shoulders, and I suspect that the reading list I gave them has been thrown away. They are far from cultivating 1,214 acres of anything, and far from producing fibre, though their efforts did not go completely in vain, they produced research reports, one of which was written up in the Journal of Industrial Hemp. Lee does not appear to have read any of this. Sadly, what happens is that misinformation gets repeated and repeated, and I will no doubt be hearing more and more of this airy fairy tale, repeated with great authority as people take Lee and some clap happy fashion editors as gospel.

I do like Lee's choice of words on occasion, she does succeed in making me laugh, as when she asserts: "...there is an issue of contaminating the spinning mills with hemp fibres."

The last mention of hemp is on p. 210, where she starts off by mentioning the Anya Hindmarch bag, along with the Onya bag - which she perhaps fails to realise is plastic. No mention of the eco hemp bag that her magazine so graciously promoted for me - she did not have far to go to find out about this one!

Another aspect of her book that is poorly researched is the resouce guide, she omits such vendors as The Hemp Shop, Sativa, Minawear, GeoMio. Omission of The Hemp Shop in particular shows a callous lack of regard for the history of the eco movement - it has been around the longest of any existing hemp shops in the UK and the proprietor, Bobby Pugh, not only was a founder of the hemp movement here but was also a hemp farmer; it was he who manufactured the hemp eco bags that the Ecologist promoted gratis as a real gesture of their stance on the environment. But I guess Lee was out of the office that month.

On the way are two more books in this genre, including one with the same main title as Lee's, and the way things are going, I do not expect to be writing ecstatic praise. The trouble with the eco movement is that there is no end of celebrities and self promoting fools, but those who do the research are often ignored, and this may have something to do with the budget of the cotton industry. The eco movement is much like an army where none of the recruits want to do basic training, but are eager to shoot off weapons in all directions. I recommend that Lee go back to boot camp and take agriculture 101 and science 101 before she writes a book on textiles.

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